Google announced today that Google is joining Desarrollo País of Chile and Office of Posts and Telecommunications of French Polynesia (OPT) to build Humboldt, a subsea cable route linking Chile, French Polynesia, and Australia — the first ever to directly connect South America and Asia-Pacific. Google's particpation is turning the Humboldt subsea cable project from a vision into reality.

According to Reuters, the Chilean government announced the partnership with Google on Wednesday, to build the first undersea fiber-optic cable between South America and Asia Pacific. "This cable will consolidate Chile's position as the center of digital activity in South America," Chilean President Gabriel Boric said during a press conference in Valparaiso.

The United States Government released the news on Wednesday. The United States welcomes the announcement by the Government of Chile and Google, launching the Humboldt subsea cable route connecting Chile to Australia via French Polynesia.  This is the first-ever subsea cable connection between South America and the Indo-Pacific region.  When complete (estimated 2026), this transformational project will increase the reach, reliability, and resilience of the Internet by adding a trusted and secure route across the Pacific.

According to the U.S. Department of States, this announcement follows the inaugural Leaders’ Summit of the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity (APEP), where President Biden hosted regional leaders, including Chile’s President Boric, to chart an ambitious course for deepening economic integration and mobilizing responsible private investment in the Western Hemisphere.  The Humboldt cable represents a concrete example of the potential for greater economic cooperation in the Americas. To help broaden access to modern, trusted and secure communications infrastructure throughout the Pacific, the United States remains committed to expanding access to fast, secure, interoperable, and reliable internet connectivity in the Pacific Ocean.  The Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy (CDP) plans to contribute $15 million to enable access to fast, secure, interoperable, and reliable internet connectivity in several Pacific Island Countries.  This is one way that the United States government is engaging with U.S. companies to enable the expansion of sustainable and reliable Internet infrastructure.

The Humboldt subsea cable will connect Chile's port city of Valparaiso with Sydney, Australia through 14,800 kilometers (9,200 miles) of fiber-optic cable with a capacity of 144 terabytes and a 25-year lifespan, according to press release by the Chilean government.

According to BNamericas, the Humboldt subsea cable project is expected to cost US$400 million. The Chilean government contributes US$55million, and has assigned the state-onwed infrastructure development agency Desarrollo País to oversee the project. 

In addition to the Humboldt subsea cable connecting Chile to Australia and French Polynesia, Google has invested its private subsea cable Curie, connecting Chile to the United States and Panama. 

When operational, Humboldt will strengthen the reliability and resilience of digital connectivity across the Pacific by interconnecting the cables that comprise Google's South Pacific Connect initiative and adding geographically diverse cable investments that link French Polynesia and Chile.  Google announced the South Pacific Connect initiative in last November.

 South Pacific Connect initiative
South Pacific Connect initiative, Image courtesy: Google

 

The Chilean government has been eager to build a direct fiber optic network link between South America and the Asia-Pacific region since 2016.

At the beginning, the Chilean government considered a Chinese solution proposed by Huawei Marine (now HMN Tech), to build a subsea cable linking Chile and China across the South Pacific. Such a proposal was welcomed and supported by both Chilean and Chinese governments. But none of the leading Chinese telecom operators would be interested in participating in such a project, as the traffic between China and Chile even the whole of Latin America won't make sense to build such a subsea cable connecting Chile and China, and such a project is obviously lack of commercial feasibility.

In 2020, the Chilean government chose an alternative and competing solution proposed by Japanese NEC, to build the Humboldt subsea cable linking Chile to Australia and New Zealand. 

According to the Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei,  Japan's route beat out a pitch by China that would have made Shanghai the final landing point. This decision of the Chilean government came amid a U.S. pressure campaign to keep China out of global telecommunication projects.

Competing Solutions for Humboldt Subsea Cable
Competing Japanese and Chinese Proposals, Image courtesy: Nikkei Asia

 

In December 2021, the Fondo de Infraestructura, S.A. of Chile selected H2 Cable LP, a subsidiary of BW Digital (the owner of Hawaiki Cable System), as a strategic partner for the development of the Humboldt subsea cable system. In the latest anouncements by Google, the US Government and the Chilean Government, H2 Cable or BW Digital was not mentioned as a partner for the Humboldt subsea cable project. It is said H2 Cable has dropped out the project.  

Anyway, Google's joining marks a significant milestone for the Humboldt subsea cable project, turning it from a vision into reality.